In addition to a strong GPA and specific pre-requisite courses, AA programs also look at exam scores, letters of recommendation, and experiences. Typically, programs want well-rounded applicants, so it is critical that you do not neglect these areas of the application.
Most AA programs will accept either GRE or MCAT scores. As of 2020, University of Colorado is the only program that requires the MCAT.
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a computer-delivered exam which lasts a little under 4 hours. The exam includes 3 sections: Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing. The Verbal and Quantitative sections are scored on a scale of 130 to 170, and most AA programs look for combined scores of around 310. The Analytical Writing section is score from 0 to 6, and typically a score of 4 is considered to be competitive.
While there are no recommended pre-GRE courses, we do encourage students to plan at least six to eight weeks of study in preparation for the exam. Prep courses are available, but typically unnecessary.
Currently, the GRE costs $205 and is offered year-round. You can find more information as well as the registration links on the ETS website.
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a computer-delivered exam which lasts roughly 7.5 hours. The MCAT has 4 sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations; Chemical and Physical Foundations; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. Overall, the exam is scored form 472 - 528. The four individual sections are scored from 118 to 132. A 500 or above the 50th percentile is considered in the competitive range for AA.
Because the MCAT is a content specific exam there are many advised pre-MCAT courses as well as numerous recommended courses. To be adequately prepared for the MCAT, you should have completed the following courses as their content is directly tested on the exam:
- BIOL 1107/L and BIOL 1108/L
- CHEM 1211/L and CHEM 1212/L
- CHEM 2211/L
- BCMB 3100 or BCMB 4010 & 4020
- PHYS 1111/L and PHYS 1112/L
You are also highly encouraged to take STAT 2000 or BIOS 2010, PSYC 1101, SOCI 1101, CHEM 2212/L, GENE 3200, and a course in Physiology (CBIO 3710, VPHY 3100, PMCY 3000 or CBIO 2200 & 2210). Additionally, courses which focus on critical reading skills as well as those in which you read and examine primary scientific literature can be extremely helpful not only for CARS, but for the other three sections too.
Currently the MCAT costs $320 and is offered several times each month between January - October of each calendar year. For more information on the MCAT, click here to visit our MCAT page. You can also learn more about the exam and register on AAMC's website.
Unless you are applying to Colorado, the GRE is a better option as it is less expensive ($205) than the MCAT ($320) and often easier to prepare for. However, it is entirely your choice which exam which you take so select the one on which you know you can perform best.
Most AA programs require at least three letters of evaluation, but specific requirements do vary between schools. These letters are meant to provide insight into your academic ability, character, and potential for success as it relates to your pursuit of the Anesthesiologist Assistant profession. Letters cannot come from family members or friends of the family. They need to be provided by those who know you in a professional capacity – e.g., professors, supervisors, volunteer coordinators, etc.
Remember that these letters need to come from people who know you well, so begin building relationships early, especially with faculty. You should plan on obtaining at least one reference from a hard science faculty member such as someone who has taught you in a pre-requisite course. A letter from a healthcare provider is not required but can be useful provided that they have gotten to know you well and can speak to your ability to succeed in their field.
Most programs will require that references be uploaded directly to CASAA. Again, check with programs for individual requirements.
Should I waive my right to view my letters of recommendation?
Yes. Letters that can be viewed by the student do not carry the same weight as those kept confidential.
You are expected to have 8-10 hours minimum of documented anesthesia exposure by observation in the operating room but are highly encouraged to complete additional hours of shadowing. Shadowing can typically be with an anesthesiologist, AA, or CRNA; you are not required to shadow an AA specifically since programs understand that your access to these professionals may be limited. However, if you can shadow with an AA, it would be very beneficial. Shadowing experience demonstrates that you understand the profession, and it is recommended that you try to experience as much provider/patient interaction as possible so that you can make informed decisions about which career track is right for you.
To prove that you have completed the required shadowing hours, you will need to complete a Shadowing Experience Verification Form which can be found on many of the individual program websites in their “Requirements” sections. Please note that shadowing means hands-off observation only and that some programs do stipulate that the shadowing cannot be completed as part of a class or internship.
Anesthesiology Assistant programs are also looking for students who demonstrate clear evidence of compassion, enjoy working with people and are dedicated to serving their community. Volunteering can be done in a clinical setting such as a hospital or hospice, but it can also be done with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Humane Society, or any other organization (on-campus or off-campus) that the student is passionate about. Admissions committees appreciate students that show depth of commitment and substantial involvement and leadership in the community.
If attempting to volunteer at a local hospital or clinic (e.g., Piedmont Athens Regional or St. Mary's Hospital), it is important to be mindful of deadlines and requirements. Most hospitals and clinics have a specific time-window each year that they accept and train potential volunteers. Further, most require volunteers to pass background checks and have up-to-date immunizations and tuberculosis testing. It is your responsibility to research deadlines and requirements when seeking out volunteer opportunities.